When Toni Ann Moschello enters her Stafford Township kitchen, her grandparents are never far from her mind.
One grandmother and grandfather were from Italy, another grandmother from Germany. One grandfather was from Russia and was an avid gardener. Each grandparent has left their mark on Moschello's cooking style and approach to food.
"I don't know where my cooking came from, but I know where my exposures came from," said Moschel-lo, 33. "I was exposed to so many different things. That's why I cook the way I do. We can have lasagna one night and then I can have brautwurst and sauerkraut and a beer the next."
That approach is apparent in both her blog at forkfulofsimplicity.blogspot.com and in her new cookbook, also called "Forkful of Simplicity."
She says more than 3,000 people have visited her blog so far - and like her grandparents, her visitors are an international group.
"I see a lot of people from Germany. I see people from the United Kingdom. I've even had vistors from Sri Lanka - but I think that's a mistake," she said.
Moschello didn't set out to be an international cooking sensation. She didn't do a lot of cooking when growing up, but did spend a lot of time with her Italian grandmother, Marie Bocchicchio.
"She didn't physically teach me how to cook, but we spent a lot of time together and I was always watching her. She would prepare breakfast for me, prepare lunch for me. She never said 'This is how you do it,' but I could see, what she was doing." Moschello said. Her other grandmother, Liesbeth, would share the contents of care packages she received from relative still living in Germany.
Visits to her paternal grandparents also included spending time in the garden maintained by her grandfather, Boris Makarow.
"His garden was absolutely spectacular. He always had beautiful vegetables," she said. "I remember he would make tea and put it in a jelly jar and shake it up to mix in the sugar."
If Moschello thinks about her grandmothers when cooking, she thinks of her grandfather when she now works in the garden she and her husband, Tony, maintain.
"My garden reflects that. My husband has an absolutely beautiful garden," she said.
Family get-togethers sometimes brought strange culture clashes.
"I come from a family of three children, so it was always somebody's birthday or something. It was comical when my grandparents would get together, it would be who was drinking vodka, who's drinking a glass of red wine," she said.
It was getting married that prompted Moschello to start experimenting and developing her own style in the kitchen.
With her old-world influences, Moschello balks at serving prepared foods and sauces. She prefers that everything she puts on the table have the homemade touch.
"I make my own salad dressing, soups and marinades. It's not a lot of work. When you can put fresh ingredients and fresh vegetables in what you cook you really enjoy it," she said.
A self-taught cook, Moschello says she can make meals from just about anything she finds in her refrigerator. They usually turn out well, although there have been some disasters, she admits.
"I don't make pizza - we don't want to talk about this," she said.
Working part-time as a receptionist at a local chiropractor's, Moscello works to make a home-cooked meal every night.
"I love it. I feel it's my contribution back. Everybody has a gift, I feel this is mine," she said.
She began her blog in August.
"I just want to share how I cook and what I cook," she said. "I like to keep the food simple. I try to make things that are different, like roasting broccoli."
Her blog inspired her to write her cookbook, which features 125 different recipes. Some recipes are ones she found elsewhere and tweaked to fit her cooking style. But most are ones she either created herself or inherited from family members.
"The picture on the cover is my grandmother's favorite dish, it's pasta with garlic and olive oil - it's simple and perfect, like she was," Moschello said. "And there are German chocolate cupcakes and Russian tea cakes - If you know me, you know what it means. Everything in the book has something to do with the people who knew me, because that is who I am."
Contact Steven V. Cronin:
Pasta and Garlic (Aglio e Olio)
•Pasta (your choice)
•1/2 cup olive oil
•Salt and pepper
•Fresh garlic, chopped fine ( 5 to 6 cloves per pound, depending on your taste)
•Parmesan regianno cheese, for topping
Cook pasta according to directions. While pasta water is boiling, heat olive oil (enough oil to toss with pasta) over medium heat. Season oil with salt and pepper. Add garlic to oil and cook. Once garlic is hot and sizzling (about 3 to 4 minutes), remove from heat immediately taking care not to burn the garlic. Drain pasta. Toss pasta with olive oil and garlic. Add more oil if needed. Top with grated cheese.
•1/2 cup extra virgin
•1/4 cup dry red wine
•1/2 cup crushed
•2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
•2 tablespoons parsley
•Salt and pepper
•1 pound pasta
•8 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled
•Grated Parmesan cheese
Combine olive oil, wine, crushed tomatoes. Mix in garlic, parsley, salt and pepper. Let sauce rest for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Bring a large pot of water to a boil for pasta. While water is coming up to a boil, remove sauce from refrigerator. Allow it to come to room temperature. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain pasta. Combine pasta with sauce and toss with bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
Russian Tea Cakes
•1 cup butter, softened
•1/2 cup confectioners sugar
•1 teaspoon vanilla
•2 1/4 cups flour
•1/4 teaspoon salt
•3/4 cup mixed nuts, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl mix butter, confectioners sugar and vanilla. Slowly work in flour, salt and nuts until dough holds together. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until set, but not brown. Remove from oven and cool slightly. While tea cakes are still warm, roll each cake in additional confectioners sugar.
German Chocolate Cupcakes
•1 cup pecans, chopped
•1 cup coconut
•1 18 1/4-ounce box German chocolate cake mix
•1 stick butter
•1 8-ounce package cream cheese
•1 16-ounce box powdered sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray cupcake tin with Pam. Sprinkle nuts and coconut in bottom of each cupcake section. Mix cake mix as directed on box. Evenly distribute among each cupcake section. Mix butter and cream cheese together. Mix in powdered sugar. Pour over cupcakes. Bake 1 hour. Cool before serving.